I am a post-doc in the USA and was a teaching assistant in the same university. During my TA appointment, I attended a one-week course outside the city. Prior to leaving, I got permission from the head TA, e-mailed the course instructors, and got one of my colleagues to cover my class and office hours.

One day before my return, I got an email from the instructors asking why I was absent from the classes. I apologized and explained everything, but they were furious. A week later, I got an email that I was terminated. No reason was given, and I got no reply to my e-mails. I even called HR and got nowhere, but was told that I would be financially compensated.

I feel that this was unfair, particularly since another TA had done exactly the same thing and nothing happened to her. I do not think they should get away with this. My research PI wants to get involved since he thinks I was not treated fairly. What should I do next?

UPDATE: I took permission from the head of TA.. instructors told us in the orientation that she is the one in charge. I had one of my colleague who did the same and was not fired! I got one of my fellow TAs to cover my discussion section in exchange to cover her grading which I did! They treated me unfairly as I told them even to take the salary from me for that week. When I mentioned that another colleague did the same and I feel I am biased against, they did not reply. I asked her and she also took the permission from the head of TAs. I do not want money from them but this might show up on my record in the future and I never had any red flags in my resume and I feel I am discriminated against!

closed as off-topic by Solar Mike, Brian Borchers, Darrin Thomas, Richard Erickson, Jon Custer Aug 5 at 22:11

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    You should contact either or both a lawyer and the department head or Dean and make sure you have a copy of your contract and conditions. This is probably not the stack for this question... – Solar Mike Aug 3 at 5:24
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    In most parts of the USA, an employer has the right to fire an employee for any reason (other than illegal discrimination on the basis of sex, race, etc) or for no reason, at any time and without notice, unless they have a contract specifying otherwise. – Nate Eldredge Aug 3 at 5:35
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    Are you fired from being a post-doc, or just from your TA assignment (but still continuing as a post-doc)? – Trusly Aug 3 at 6:01
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    Your situation might not be equivalent to that of the other TA, depending on the details regarding how/when they went about getting permission and how important the conference was versus your course. Are you required to have the instructor's permission in advance? Did you perhaps imply to the head TA you had this permission based on the minimal email interaction? There's so many potential nuances to political fights. And you seem to have nothing to gain anyway. – A Simple Algorithm Aug 3 at 6:42
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    I am fired from my TA assignment not from my post doc job. I am hired with a contract not as at will employee. I went for one week course ( pre-commitment) award I got! They did not ask us to contact the instructor for permission. My colleague also contacted the head of TA. Also, even if they have the right to fire me without notice, why did they assign me grading the day before it and do not reply to my inquiries on the email. I do not need money from them but I do not want them to get away with it, especially that I never had any situation like that anywhere! Thanks. – Moo Aug 3 at 7:58

From what you say, it does seem like you did nothing wrong and were nonetheless fired. I would call this an "injustice", but I can't see where anything bad happened to you.

  • Your post-doc contract was not violated.
  • You were not financially impacted. On the contrary, it sounds like you get the money without having to teach, which is a win.
  • You mention some concerns about your resume, but this is frankly nonsense -- no one is forcing you to write "I was a TA but got fired" on your resume. In reality, no one will ever know.
  • You perhaps have some legitimate concerns about your reputation. Sitting down with the department chair or someone responsible for the department's teaching may be helpful. You may also want to ascertain whether there is anything in your file that could adversely impact your reputation later (e.g., anything that would show up if you applied for a reference -- or even a security clearance).
  • Are you eligible to teach in future semesters? If not, then you perhaps have grounds to file a complaint and try to get your eligibility reinstated. But you would have to follow the university's procedures -- I doubt you would have any legal recourse since you weren't fired due to race, gender, etc.

It is good that your research PI is willing to help you. If you have a specific "damage" you would like to be compensated for, I would ask for their assistance in achieving this. But "seeking justice" is likely not actionable -- instructors are usually allowed to handle their TA assignments however they want.

  • thanks for your detailed response. I work as a full time post doc research fellow and was teaching only for 3 months in the summer school. I get my main salary from my PI in the research and my visa is sponsored by him not the summer school. They fired me only one week before the summer school ends! Do you think this will show up in my records? I tried to know and went to the HR and she seems to have no idea about it and she is telling me that my profile is still active. I feel I am discriminated and biased against and they do not communicate at all! – Moo Aug 5 at 4:30
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    Moo most certainly "did something wrong". They did not ask the person responsible for the course for permission to swap assignments. This is certainly a fireable offense in my university, and I would be surprised if it weren't in Moo's. To clarify, it feels like the instructor may be overreacting (if there is not something that OP is not telling), but a formal complaint has virtually no leg to stand on. – xLeitix Aug 5 at 9:09
  • I had the impression that Moo had at least informed the instructor in advance. Getting "permission" may be wiser (or even required), but I didn't want to speculate too much. – cag51 Aug 5 at 14:55
  • As to whether this will show up in records, I have no idea -- this will vary by school and by situation. If I were to guess, I would suspect that a copy of the letter terminating you would be placed in your file. – cag51 Aug 5 at 14:56
  • "I doubt you would have any legal recourse since you weren't fired due to race, gender, etc." This depends greatly on local law and any union contract. So, bad advice. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 6 at 0:01

Even my PI in research wanted to contact them because he thinks I am not treated fairly. What to do next?

First, you should relax. Being a TA is not a big deal.

Second, you should wait. This is a situation where your PI ought to be responsible for helping you out. They already said they would try, so let them try.

If your PI does not succeed in helping you, then you might follow the university's official complaint procedure. Keep records of everything just in case.

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    I understand all of your replies. I did not get my PI get involved as I don’t want to go back working with them. But I feel discriminated against, especially after giving me cold shoulder and do not reply to any of my emails as if I was not there! So my main concern that they do not get away with it and let the officials know of it but I do not want to go back to them or even asked for financial compensation, however, they compensated me well! Also, it wil be in my resume fore ever that I got terminated without knowing any reasons for their actions. – Moo Aug 3 at 9:48
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    Relax. This is not a big deal. "my main concern that they do not get away with it" If you are looking for someone to be punished, you will probably be disappointed. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 3 at 10:10
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    "it wil be in my resume fore ever that I got terminated" Why are you listing TAing on your resume? – Anonymous Physicist Aug 3 at 10:10
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    @Moo If your PI thinks you have been treated unfairly, how does he know? You must have contacted or talked to him.... – Solar Mike Aug 3 at 12:24
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    PI is a role related to grants and research, it’s very confusing to call someone in their role of teaching a class a PI. – Noah Snyder Aug 5 at 2:42

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